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#12 – The Book of Sand

May 27, 2007

if you like, our conversation is as faint a sound in my memory as those fingernails scratching on my hullI’ve never read any Jorge Luis Borges before this, he seemed a little bit too literary for casual reading.  However, I had heard that his work (in particular the titular story from The Book of Sand) was a strong influence on House of Leaves, which is still the best book I’ve ever read.  Then my cousin David, whose taste is unimpeachable, recommended I check out anything by Borges, so at that point I really had no choice in the matter.

Borges’ style of writing, at least in these short stories, would be incredibly frustrating to me in the hands of a less skilled author.  His stories are about fantastic subjects (a cult that worships Jesus and Judas equally, a house full of inhuman, incomprehensible furniture, a book with infinite pages), but they’re all extremely brief and the narrators, frankly, don’t appear to be interested in the same information that the reader is.  However, there’s a very strong conversational tone through all the short stories in this collection, and it’s written so well even through translation from Spanish that it feels perfectly natural that they’re told like this.  This isn’t some omniscient narrator, this is a guy telling you a story, and here’s how he saw things.

I am no student of literature, and I’m certain that I missed a great deal of the significance of this book.  There are notes in the margin of this copy, which I got from the university library, about the role dreams play The Book of Sand, no doubt research for some English thesis.  I’m too underqualified to talk about Jorge Luis Borges on that level; all I can say is that these are some interesting stories about some incredible occurrences, which you could imagine hearing from some guy in a crappy bar.  Borges’ writing is wonderfully brief, which helps keep that feeling of conversation, but if I ever met that guy in a bar I’d buy him another round and insist he kept talking.

To read the story “The Book of Sand” online, try either of these bewildering versions.

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One comment

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